(1944)4Craig ButlerLifeboat shows what the disaster films of the '70s and beyond might have been like if they were shorn of their special effects and forced to concentrate on character rather than activity -- and if they were directed by a true master, of course. Today's audiences, weaned on The Poseidon Adventure et al, might find the basic setup (toss in a handful of characters from every walk of life and force them to work together for their mutual survival) a little trite, but director Alfred Hitchcock and his (credited and uncredited) screenwriters take this premise and create a gripping, taut, suspenseful, and thoroughly captivating piece of cinema. Hitchcock, of course, deserves praise for keeping visually interesting a story with such a limited setting, but he deserves even greater credit for the marvelous work he pulls forth from his cast. In what is arguably the only film role that takes advantage of her unique talents, Tallulah Bankhead delivers a tour de force performance that is simply mesmerizing. Bankhead establishes the character clearly and precisely within the first few seconds -- a cynical, ironic, self-centered woman; she should be rather repulsive, but Bankhead makes her playful and appealing. She anchors the film but does not overshadow it, allowing the likes of John Hodiak, Hume Cronyn, and William Bendix to shine as well. There are moments in the film that don't quite work (usually when it crosses the line from war drama to war propaganda), but overall, Lifeboat is an engrossing, often thrilling and sometimes unsettling cinematic experience.